The purpose of this article is not to discuss the history and background of the Kashmir Conflict. Plenty has been said and written and so have several solutions suggested in the past 69 years for the resolution of the conflict. It is rather strange that in spite of various UN resolutions and numerous meetings between the representatives of India and Pakistan, no progress has been made towards the resolution of the conflict. One wonders whether there is any sincere intent on the part of either country to resolve the conflict or do they prefer the status quo.
In January(2015) I took a one semester special(4 month) course on “Diplomacy & International Agreements) at the Wright University in Dayton, Ohio USA, where I live(I have lived in the USA for 50 years). Our Professor, Dr. William Ayers seemed very knowledgeable in world conflicts. I asked him if he was aware of the Kashmir conflict. He not only was well aware of the conflict, he also attended a 2-day conference on the conflict in Vienna, Austria several years ago, he said, where the Indian and Pakistani participants where there in their own private capacities and not as official representatives of their respective countries.
So, I asked him what his impression was of the conference. He said he got the impression that neither country showed the desire to resolve the conflict. That also reinforces the fact that neither country has the capability of resolving the conflict through the traditional method of dialogue. In addition, India has shown no intention of a third party mediation, even though it was India that took the conflict to the United Nations, thus making it an international conflict.
Keeping that reality in mind, one has to be creative in developing options outside of this traditional approach. Let us look at the map of the territory first…Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh, and areas under Pakistani control; Baltistan and Gilgit, not to mention Akasi Chin under Chinese control. As we can see, Kashmir Valley is totally isolated from all areas and nestled among the mountains, the only such valley in the world. It could serve as a buffer between all regions and the two nations of India and Pakistan.
It also is at a disadvantage at present, being the only place in the world with only one road to the outside world; the Srinagar-Jammu road, which goes through the mountains of Banihal pass, which we all know is not 100% dependable. From the economic point, it is extremely costly to both India, for spending an estimated one Billion US dollars/yr to keep the road open(a priority for the Indian military) and to the people of Kashmir for paying a high transportation cost for the goods transported through these mountains. When the road is closed for days and weeks, because of bad weather, political and other reasons, the consequences are obvious and so is the plight of the people.
Compared to that road, the existing all weather, 24 hours, 365 days a year; Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road is a natural highway out of the valley to the whole world. It is cost effective and a life line for the prosperity of the Valley. Trading a few items across LOC through barter is not exactly a Free Trade Zone activity, and not a solution to the conflict.
Another area of conflict, which costs Billions of US Dollars to both India and Pakistan is the Siachen Glacier, which is the highest point of any warfare and has cost hundreds of lives on both sides. One wonders what benefit is derived by either country by occupying that area, where not a peck of grass grows. Does it not make sense to agree to a NO WAR pact for that specific area, withdraw those forces and free those Billions of US Dollars, and use those funds for the development of their respective countries…a step towards peace in the region.
For the “Pro Kashmir Freedom” leaders, rather than using slogans such as Azadi, Plebiscite, Self-determinations(all valid and legitimate slogans) etc., I believe the priority should be to work on peace, justice, prosperity and dignity for Kashmir and Kashmiris. After all, the conflict is about Kashmir Valley, that is where young people are killed every day. The conflict is not about other territories under Pakistani or Chinese control. So, far all practical reasons it is the unstable political and economic reasons that need to be addressed in Kashmir Valley. One of the first things that needs to be done towards the political stability of the region under the Indian control and to make Economics of Peace work, is to make three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh Regional Administrative Zones. Spending a reported Rs. 200 Crores every six months to move offices from Srinagar to Jammu and back is a colossal waste of funds. In addition, consider the disruption of families and the amount of time and expense an individual has to incur by traveling between two capitols in order to get a particular document signed and approved.
Providing each zone certain amount of administrative authority would make the system cost effective. The present system is a forced and unnatural marriage. The regions are so diverse, ethnically and geographically, it is a matter of night and day. Here is an example that will make the point clear. If I were to travel from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad in my car, it would take me three hours and approximately Rs. 2000 in gasoline(petrol). At present, I need to fly to Delhi, then fly from Delhi to Lahore, then, from Lahore take a 4 hour ride to Islamabad in a very comfortable coach on western standard highways, then another bus from Islamabad, a 4 hour ride to Muzaffarabad….a total of 2 days and a cost of Rs. 20,000. Compare this with 3 hours and Rs. 2000 makes this unjust situation clear. The efforts to get this highway open should be the top priority towards economic freedom and economic independence. Our God given natural and human intellectual resources can make this possible through faith, determination and perseverance. There is no UN resolution that prohibits from keeping this road open. It is illegal on the part of both India and Pakistan to keep this road blocked.
India has to realize that decreasing(demilitarizing) the armed forces rather than increasing them is a way towards a peaceful environment. By their own estimates, militancy is way down and they estimate only a few hundred militants in the Valley. It is estimated that the Indian armed forces occupy 700,000 kanals in the Valley, most of it being prime land. This has immense economic consequences on the Valley. The land prices have skyrocketed. People are forced to take rice land and fruit orchards to build homes and factories. Where else can they go. They even climbed hills as high as they can go to build a house. This is reducing the production of rice and fruits, particularly apples…a serious impact on the economy. There should be a complete ban ordered on the use of agriculture land for any form of construction. The ban has to be seriously implemented and enforced. The violators should be fined Rs. 10 lakhs and 10 years in jail. Is it too severe; yes it is. A society that lacks effective leadership or discipline(except when offering prayers), requires what the medical profession calls “Radical Surgery”. What is the alternative to make more land available to people? The army should be prevented from taking more land and asked to vacate some of the land they are now occupying. Let us explore ways of using the State Constitution more effectively.
Another factor in Economics of Peace is the protection and preservation of the environment, specifically in Kashmir where we have a fragile eco system. What has happened to the Dal Lake is a shameful example. We are all familiar with the horrible condition it is in after spending hundreds of millions of dollars to restore it. The old CHAR CHINARI used to be a major tourist attraction in the Dal Lake. It is a total embarrassment now. Has anyone been held accountable.? A peaceful environment is a key to Economics of Peace. It is the moral responsibility of every Kashmiri citizen to protect and preserve the environment and help keep Kashmir GREEN & CLEAN.
Kashmir is rich with natural and intellectual human resources. It has the largest number of herbs. A fertile opportunity for the pharmacy industry. It is almost self-sufficient in building materials like stones and sand, bricks, cement and timber. What oil is to the Middle Eastern countries, water is to Kashmir. Clean hydroelectric power can be exported to all over South and Central Asia. Forests that the late Mr. Nehru used to call “GREEN GOLD” is being stolen and smuggled. Kashmir is reported to have the best forests in all of Asia. Replanting forests is a way to preserving these forests. Climate control has dramatically changed in Kashmir because of the illegal felling of forests.
A recent newspaper report that some Indian army unit was bulldozing forest trees to widen a road some where in the Valley is a good example of that. Had there been replanting done as it is done in forests around the world, the capacity would have doubled in these 69 years and there would be no need to import timber, and it would not be as expensive as it is now.
The old SILK ROAD is a good precedent to the free flow of trade between South and Central Asia. China and Pakistan have already decided on the economic corridor. The Governments on the two sides of LOC could administer the management of trade with modern computer system and proper banking arrangements with India and Pakistan. As the former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Singh said, the borders would become soft and irrelevant.
It is reported that approximately one third of the Indian population earns less than $2/day(Rs. 130). There are parts of the country with no proper roads, electricity or running water. Imagine how far $2 Billion can go towards improved education, electricity and housing. A Free Trade Zone through Kashmir can help alleviate such challenges.
Prior to the start of the Kashmir conflict in 1947, there was a free flow of travel and goods through South-Central Asia. While growing up, I remember talking about travels to the cities like Tashkent and Samarkand, Kabul and Kandahar from and through Kashmir.
Mediation is used all over the world to resolve conflicts. Since India is not willing to use any third party to mediate( even the UN Secretary General very recently offered his services, as well as Iran and Turkey have offered theirs), it is my hope and my prayer that the two countries will consider my “out of the box option” of making Kashmir an Autonomous International Trade Free Zone for the benefit of the entire region and GIVES PEACE A CHANCE.
(Bashir G. Ahmed, MS, MBA, Kashmiri-American Consultant in Peace & Conflict Resolution. E-mail: [email protected])